Background: When trying to access interventions to improve their well-being and quality of life, family caregivers face many challenges. Internet-based interventions provide new and accessible opportunities to remotely support them and can contribute to reducing their burden. However, little is known about the link existing between the components, the use of behavior change techniques, and the outcomes of these Internet-based interventions.
Objective: This study aimed to provide an update on the best available evidence about the efficacy of Internet-based interventions for caregivers of older adults. Specifically, the components and the use of behavior change techniques and how they impact on the efficacy of the intervention were sought.
Methods: A systematic review searched primary source studies published between 2000 and 2015. Included studies were scored with a high level of evidence by independent raters using the GRADE criteria and reported caregiver-specific outcomes about interventions delivered through the Internet for caregivers of people aged 50 years and older. A narrative synthesis identified intervention components (eg, content, multimedia use, interactive online activities, and provision of support), behavior change techniques, and caregiver outcomes (eg, effects on stressors, mediators, and psychological health). The risk of bias within the included studies was assessed.
Results: A total of 2338 articles were screened and 12 studies describing 10 Internet-based interventions were identified. Seven of these interventions led to statistically significant improvements in caregiver outcomes (eg, reducing depression or anxiety, n=4). These efficacious interventions used interactive components, such as online exercises and homework (n=4) or questionnaires on health status (n=2) and five of them incorporated remote human support, either by professionals or peers. The most frequently used behavior change techniques included in efficacious interventions were provision of social support (n=6) and combinations of instructions to guide behavior change and barrier identification (n=5). The design and aim of the included studies did not permit determining exactly which component and/or behavior change technique was more efficacious in producing positive outcomes in caregivers. The risk for selection bias was low for all the studies, and low to high for performance, detection, and attrition biases.
Conclusions: In sum, Internet-based interventions that incorporate professional and social support, and provide instructions to change behavior and problem solve in an interactive manner appear to lead to positive outcomes in caregivers. Studies isolating the specific effect of components are needed to improve our understanding of the underlying mechanism of action.